Before the Joint Fiscal Committees of
the State Legislature on the FY2017-18 Budget
Space Institute and its Alliance for New York State Parks Program
February 13, 2017 - Senate Finance
Chair Young and Assembly Ways & Means Chair Farrell, Chairs O’Mara,
Englebright, Funke and O’Donnell, distinguished legislators – thank you for the
opportunity to discuss Governor Cuomo's proposed budget as it relates to our
state parks and environmental funding.
I am Erik
Kulleseid, Senior Vice President at the Open Space Institute and Executive
Director of its Alliance for New York State Parks program.
OSI is among New
York's leading land and park conservation nonprofits. As such, we are grateful
that with his budget proposal, Governor Cuomo is seeking to expand his park
revitalization initiative, improve recreational access to trails, parks, state
forests and preserves, maintain a $300 million EPF and raise the bar on clean
water – with a welcome emphasis on source water land conservation.
40-year history, OSI has conserved 143,000 acres in New York State. These
conservation transactions achieve a variety of goals, including creating and
expanding parks, protecting habitat, mitigating the effects of climate change
and, yes, protecting water sources.
The overall effect
on the state park system has been significant. OSI’s work accounts for more
than 10 percent of the state park system’s total acreage of more than 335,000
acres. Through decades we have been instrumental in the creation of Sterling
Forest and Schunnemunk State Parks and have more than doubled the size of
Minnewaska, Fahnestock, Thacher and Moreau Lake State Parks.
And with our
Alliance for New York State Parks program, OSI has extended its commitment to
public enjoyment of parks through advocacy, private fundraising (to the tune of
$19 million) and support of public-private endeavors that are adding to the
revitalization of New York’s magnificent state park system.
As such, we
enthusiastically welcome the governor’s continued support for improving and
upgrading state parks through his NY Parks 2020 initiative; and his inclusion
of a $120 million installment in his proposed budget. We also endorse the
creation of the complementary $30 million Adventure NY program within the DEC –
our state forests and preserves are superior recreational destinations and
ought to offer high quality access points and trails as well. Within that
program we are pleased to see a specific sub-focus on the Catskills.
With his budget
proposal, Governor Cuomo is maintaining momentum on the 10-year commitment
outlined in his NY Parks 2020 plan to revitalize state parks and make them more
accessible, appealing and welcoming for generations of park visitors. This
commitment comes after decades of state park underinvestment that had resulted
in a $1 billion backlog in maintenance and repairs.
extraordinarily grateful to the governor and the legislature for the
renaissance that is underway throughout the system, a renaissance validated by
last year’s record-setting attendance. New Yorkers and out-of-state tourists
are loving our parks and that is a great thing for communities and local businesses
throughout the state.
On the operations
side of the ledger, this year’s budget once again by-and-large freezes Office
of Parks and DEC funding at last year’s levels. For agencies confronting the
triple whammy of budget cuts in excess of twenty percent over recent years,
rising fixed costs, and a growing number of visitors, it is difficult to
maintain confidence that these agencies and the New Yorkers they serve are
truly not being impacted.
We once again
credit Commissioner Rose Harvey for leading the Office of Parks during these
lean times. The Commissioner’s efforts to establish operating partnerships,
improve efficiency and enhance the visitor experience shine through with the
capital projects and programs advancing through NY Parks 2020 and her securing
of $264 million in outside funding for state parks. We are pleased to see
Commissioner Basil Seggos making increased capital and staffing investments in
partnerships and enhanced access as well.
I am also eager to
express our enthusiasm for a second year of a record $300 million EPF. The
Legislature has long been champions of the EPF and we remain grateful to both
houses for your continuing support for the fund and all that it achieves.
There are four
categories of particular interest to OSI within the EPF: the State Land
Stewardship line and its NYS Parks & Trails NY Grants funding, the
Municipal Grants line and the Open Space/Land Conservation account.
Stewardship and the Parks & Trails NY Grants program are important initiatives
aimed, respectively, at caring for the natural resources within state parks and
DEC forests and preserves, and strengthening local park friends groups. We urge
your continued support for each of these stewardship items. The Municipal
Grants line is an additional important boost for building private sector and
local government partnerships and should be maintained in strength.
As we applaud the
$300 million total, we call your attention to two items within the EPF that
First, under the
label “Navigation Law” the proposed EPF budget includes an unprecedented $2
million offload from the general fund of the state’s practice of reimbursing
local government for the enforcement of the state’s boating laws. This is an
inappropriate move of aid to localities into the state’s environmental capital
fund, and we ask the legislature to correct that error in the final budget.
In addition, as a
prominent land conservation organization, I would be remiss if I did not
express some concern for the reduction in the Open Space/Land Acquisition
category within the proposed EPF – from $40 million to $33 million. While this
EPF reduction for land acquisition may be offset elsewhere if, for example, the
$2 billion water quality improvement initiative is adopted, it does give us
Much of OSI’s land
conservation work occurs around watersheds, rivers, lakes, and streams that help
ensure reliable supplies of clean drinking water. It is simply a matter of fact that no matter where you
live, it is likely that land conservation positively impacts your drinking
water and keeps it available for future generations.
That is why we are very encouraged that the governor is including source
water protection as part of his new clean water initiative. We are hopeful that
once this program is more fleshed out, that there will be gains in open space
funding. After all smart land conservation is one of the most cost-effective
tools the state can pursue to ensure safe, clean drinking water for all New
OSI actively supports the governor’s initiative to create a new Adirondack
gateway at Exit 29 on the Northway in North Hudson. OSI has been involved in
the planning for this project that will provide access to newly acquired lands
in the park and catalyze regional economic development.
Finally, OSI strongly supports the executive budget’s Empire State Trail
proposal. Across the state, and in particular the Hudson Valley, OSI is a
practitioner of trail expansion and building. Already one of the strongest
rail-trail networks in the nation, the Empire State Trail promises to knit
together the state’s recreational wonders into a network that will be a global
destination for recreation enthusiasts. And best of all, the trail is an
eminently doable proposition. We heartily endorse the effort to complete it.
In closing, I thank the governor and members of both the Senate and
Assembly for working together in support of parks and the environment. Your
commitment and effectiveness is setting a new national standard, one that can
make all New Yorkers proud.
Thank you for your
time this afternoon and for the work you do to advance the cause of protecting
and enhancing New York’s precious environmental and recreational resources.
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